How to avoid undercooked IT spaghetti

Every few years the IT industry thinks up another spin on an old story. Why should you dump your existing system and splash out on a new one? Why, because it’s better, quicker, smarter, more certain to take your business to a new level… you can spot these promises at 100 paces.

One of the more recent ones was customer relationship management (CRM).

Yes, with a simple integrated system you can create a comprehensive knowledge base encompassing your people, your clients, their products and the contacts they have with you. And, predictably, the country has become strewn with overpromised and undercooked IT spaghetti.

The secret of clever IT usage is to put together the basic functionality without spending lots of money. And it’s very possible to do this. Although you won’t be able to create a completely functioning CRM system on the cheap, you can certainly make use of the key elements.

At the heart of CRM is the ability to understand your client base: to listen to your clients, note down the relevant information about their plans, preferences and activities, and then make intelligent use of this in the way you treat those clients.

The role of the technology is to hold all this information in one easy place and use it to build a simple contact programme to make timely, relevant contact with your more important clients. This goes under many different names, but knowledge management is one that you’ll hear bandied around.

The key to the technology is that it needs to be able to handle simple data fields. That could well mean an Excel spreadsheet – or in bigger databases, Microsoft Access with some simple amends to suit your purposes.

A few simple tips for assembling effective client data. First, make sure that when your staff have been in touch with a client, they find out what the client likes, wants, needs – and doesn’t want. Then load this into the system – and tell the client that you’d like to bring their records up-to-date accordingly.

Thirdly, consider the patterns that emerge: which types of client are saying which sort of thing? Who is looking to grow? Who needs a certain sort of service? And who – crucially – is likely to want a certain sort of service, based on what they have already told you about themselves.

It’s these clever but simple inferences that are at the heart of effective data and selling.

Finally, use the information properly. The best, most invaluable insights about clients can be destroyed utterly by a clunky, ill-prepared sales pitch. Try to surprise clients with how carefully you’ve examined their data, and how much effort you’ve put into understanding their business. Their expectations are generally astonishingly low. Take advantage.

You’ll have done this by using your simple data system. But the client need never know that. Simple technology, and simple sales practices – but done with real care and subtlety. And in the meantime, think of the IT budget you’ve just saved.

  • Mungo Dunnett is director of Mungo Dunnett Associates

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